Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher, artist, musician and philosopher. Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.

Graffiti’s Bonnie and Clyde

Over the last decade in Melbourne there has been a change of attitude about many kinds of graffiti and street art, what once was reviled is now celebrated. One man who knows about these changes is Gordon Harrison, the city engineer who created and runs the City of Melbourne’s graffiti management policy. Harrison knows about the changes because he wrote the city’s current graffiti policy.

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The current graffiti policy is to remove graffiti only when it is obscene or racist or when  requested by the building owner. Otherwise it would be left to survive in the organic process of the street. Harrison does not believe in protecting graffiti or street art. The City of Melbourne does keep a photographic record of significant work and it passes on its record of tags that it removes to the police.

According to Gordon Harrison $900,000 is spent each year in the removal of tags. All graffiti writers and even some street artists tag but then there are some people who just tag. Some prolific taggers like Nost and Pork have nineteen images removed per month from just the small area of the centre of the city administered by the City of Melbourne. Harrison explained to the Street Art Round Table, 22/4/16 at Melbourne University.

Unlike many people Harrison doesn’t hate taggers. He understands that there a blurred line between tagging and graffiti pieces. Harrison would prefer tags to violence or suicide, he removes the tagging but respects the free spirit behind it, wishing that it was directed differently.

The free spirit of taggers makes them not just vandals but sometimes audacious urban outlaws. They are risking their liberty and life. For there are the industrial scale dangers of the railways and rail yards. The dangers of climbing up to the heavens just to leave your mark, to show that you have existed in the city and made part of it your own.

Along with the dangers hardcore taggers also experience the most violence. There are fights between them over walls and other issues. They are also likely to be beaten up and abused by the railway’s Asset Protection Officers or even vigilante citizens taking the law into their own hand.

This brings me to the American graffiti writers and lovers, Ether and Utah who were in Melbourne earlier this year. It was here that Ether’s self-titled “Probation Vacation” came to an end on a Fitzroy sidewalk in a fight with a vigilante citizen. Charged with attempted robbery, recklessly causing injury, unlawful assault, possessing a controlled weapon (a knife) and four counts of criminal damage. He received a six month sentence, less the 27 days he was held in remand. On his release he will be deported to the US where he faces another six months for outstanding graffiti offences.

A six month stretch at the notorious Rikers Island in New York goes someways but doesn’t completely explains Ether and Utah leaving the USA in 2011 for a five year intercontinental graffiti spree focused on that most traditional graffiti site, the train. Neither does Utah & Ether’s Probation Vacation, in book and video format, which is available online along with limited edition zines, t-shirts, poster, sticker sets and box sets. There is a weird post-modern romance about deciding to live the life as an international outlaw with your love while creating “a dialog between the safety of the gallery setting and the vitality of painting in the streets illegally.” (Utah & Ether about page)


Moving Sculptures In Melbourne

Although stone and metal sculptures might appear to be permanent and stationary they do move. They are slow to start moving but once they start they move with surprising speed. Sculptures move around the city, even around the world, climbing down from the tops of old buildings to go to university. Urban Melbourne has a page about sculptures that have moved generally due to demolitions. So now that Strata has found a safe new home, out of hands of Melbourne University to the MONA in Hobart, it is time to look moving sculptures in Melbourne that may be soon moved.

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John Cummins has an audio report in The Citizen about preserving Melbourne’s public art where he interviews Adrian Doyle of Blender Studios, Ken Scarlett author of Australian Sculptors, ghost sign expert Stefan Schutt, sculptor Petrus Spronk and myself.

On Collins Street Stanley Hammond’s 1978 statue of John Batman, one of the alleged founder of Melbourne, is keeping his head down these days. He can still just be seen from behind the temporary building hoarding. His companion sculpture, another early Melbourne land owner, John Pascoe Fawkner by Michael Meszaros is outside of this fence.

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Jackie Ralph, Horse with something to say, 2013

Another sculpture with an uncertain future stands in the roundabout on Siddeley Street out the front of Melbourne’s World Trade Centre is Jackie Ralph’s Horse with something to say, 2013. The black expressionist work by Ralph has remained in the middle of the roundabout since it was installed at a temporary sculpture exhibition. It is not uncommon for a sculpture to remain after an exhibitions because of the expense of transportation, another sculptural gift of this kind is Ship to Shore at the Coburg Lake Reserve. Ralph’s horse will not be difficult to move as it is made from wood, wire, fiberglass, polyester resin and enamel paint.

Brunswick-based sculptor, Ralph wrote, in an exhibition statement; “When sculpture leaves the gallery and becomes part of the landscape, it not only reaches a larger and more diverse audience, but people seem to have a much more unguarded, unrestrained approach to it and interact with it more informally and naturally.”

I saw some new sculptures in Melbourne by an unknown artist. These sculptures will be very temporary and the creators of these works of street art knows that.


Melbourne Tea

I am currently drinking a special blend of tea that is intended to represent Melbourne. Most people in Melbourne are into coffee but I prefer tea but if Melbourne was a tea blend what would it taste like? Aside from the synesthesia implied in the question and ignoring the obvious Melbourne coffee connection.

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Philippa Thacker explaining the ingredients for the Melbourne tea blend as Stephen Twining watches.

At a media call at Little Mule Cafe, in Somerset Place, Melbourne to promote a new tea blend created for Australian palates to be launched next year. In attendance is Stephen Twining of Twinings Tea, a descendant from the company founder, Thomas Twining who established a tea and coffee shop in London in 1717, almost 300 years ago. And master tea blender, Philippa Thacker who is blending some tea that she thinks will suit Melbourne. There are no plans to market the Melbourne blend of tea, and the team from Twinings will be repeating this event, creating a blend for Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane.

How to represent Melbourne? Obviously, it has to be a black tea.

There has been some debate about the colour of Melbourne; not the football colours of a particular sporting team, but the symbolic colour of the city. Is it yellow or is it black? Yellow is the colour of Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault, that is repeated in the architecture of Denton Corker and Marshall and the 2013 Melbourne Now exhibition. Black is the colour of Inge King’s sculptures and the fashion of many of Melbourne’s inhabitants, including myself. Perhaps it is both, yellow and black, nature’s warning sign for a venomous animal, a warning that this city is poisonous to some extent.

In the 1980s Barry Humphries proposed that Melbourne be called “the big Orange” like New York is called the ‘the big Apple’. To be fair to Humphries orange was all the rage at the time, Melbourne’s trams were painted orange, and Humphries did have a taste for the kitsch elements of Australian culture. And there is some orange in the tea as “orange pekeo” is a term that refers to the highest grade of tea leaf.

Back at the Little Mule Cafe, Philippa Thacker is gentling blending the various teas together, for the tea leaf can break down easily. In the mix there is a Darjeeling, the champagne of teas with its muscatel, floral notes and two different Ceylon teas. One is of the Ceylon teas is gown at low at low altitude and has a thick liquor whereas the high grown has a dry taste with citrus notes. Added to this is added rose petals and strawberry pieces, a fruity note to compliment the Darjeeling, like strawberries and champagne at the Australia Open.

I’m not sure if Melbourne can or should be summed up with tennis but the result is an enjoyable tea. The floral and fruity notes from the rose petals and strawberry pieces are hardly noticeable but do create a full and wide flavour. “Refreshment” is a key word, identified through some arcane market research. Beer is also refreshing; but it does suggest the psychological question why does Melbourne need to become fresh again? Do we feel regularly feel stale, wilted and faded?

The tea blend is not the same as Twinings Australian Afternoon with an orange and brown outback design complete with a kangaroo on the box. Australian Afternoon is a stronger flavoured tea than English Breakfast but not dramatically different. Outside, in Sommerset Place it is grey and raining with no kangaroos or sweeping plains in sight. The dead end laneway, off Lt Burke Street has a bit of street art, along with new bollards and squares of concrete seating and gardens is typically Melbourne and a hostile environment for any kangaroo.


Paul Yore artist talk

“What was the most unexpected reaction to your work?” A person asked artist, Paul Yore at an end of exhibition talk at Neon Parc on Saturday 18 June.

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Paul Yore (left) and Geoff Newton in conversation at Neon Parc

Obviously the most unexpected reaction was when the police raiding his exhibition at Linden Gallery was unexpected. Yore never expected or intended that and it remains a misunderstood event. Yore found himself caught up in an on going local political issue about funding of Linden Gallery that had been going on for years.

It was unexpected and unintended. “Nobody wants their name to be linked to child abuse forever on the internet,” Yore explained. Yore is not a shock artist; his art is too chaotic and unstable. Shock artists, like Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi, are more precise in their intent to shock and more focused on their objective than Yore’s chaotic art. Yore doesn’t have a political objective to his art and is cynical about the individual effect of activist artists.

There was the inevitable question from the audience about self-censorship but what can you honestly say about the chill effect. What the court case did do was cause Yore to think about photography’s claim to truth and collage as an issue about truth.

After the court case in 2014 Yore went travelling across Europe looking at a lot of folk art, outsider art and junk yard art. On his return to Melbourne he started to condensed this research into an exhibition at Neon Parc. Yore told the audience that did as much as he could in the time. Time is an important feature of Yore’s work, the handmade reminds you of time, every stitch is a moment in time.

Finally two pieces of advice.

Domestic advice: to prevent your dress riding up on your tights wash with fabric softner.

Advice to artists: do not let your mother attend your artist talk unless you want the audience to hear stories from your childhood. At the end of the talk Yore’s mother tells the audience that Paul has been collecting things since he could walk.


Miniature Worlds: Stone and Goonhugs

Occasionally going to multiple galleries in an afternoon can reveal an interesting comparison, even if it does mean suffering Melbourne’s light rain and the cold wind. For example, Adam Stone’s Trust Me, 2016 is a 3D printed miniature plastic model of a roller door covered in graffiti crushing a watermelon. It is an oddity amongst his other works at Fort Delta. It is also odd because coincidentally there is another exhibition of miniature models on a similar scale in Goonhugs’s exhibition, “Tiny Writers” at Dark Horse Experiment.

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Goonhugs, Tiny Writers (photo by Yvette Crozier)

At Fort Delta there are two exhibitions. Spencer Lai’s “Beat Peace, lovely, lovely”, a funky minimalist contemporary sculpture exhibition, and Adam Stone’s “Cane Toad” exhibition.

“Cane Toad” opens with two glass doors with the image of Lance Armstrong on them and then a lot of bronze painted bananas with faces. Cast bronze jokes are a bit heavy handed, playing on an antique art world joke that goes back to Warhol, and jokes about topical figures, Lance Armstrong, Bill Clinton, and Tiger Woods don’t last long; I couldn’t recognise the faces.

So, back to the miniature model buildings. Both Stone and Goonhug’s models are excellent, sensational as miniatures, and both refer to graffiti culture.

Goonhug’s miniatures at Dark Horse Experiment are complete with every tag, every poster, and sticker. They loving recreation of specific locations, empty shops, ‘abandos’ (abandoned buildings) in Melbourne and Toyko, except that all the grime and weeds appear slightly larger. There is the indulgence is in details, in creating miniature rubbish bags,  miniature dumpsters and miniature rubbish. They celebrate the aura that taggers and sticker slappers, like Goonhugs, have given them. It is the current version of a boys own dream: making models and doing tags.

The room at Dark Horse Experiment of sticker tags, 3000 GOONHUGS, is a better representation of Goonhugs work. In the middle of the room sit couple of casks, the ‘flagons’ that add the ‘goon’ to his name. Repetition turns the tags into a pattern like wallpaper, following from Warhol and Ai Weiwei.


Why does a Tree need a Sweater?

The man in grey on the footpath to Jewell Station has opinions about yarn bombing that he is loudly expresses to his girlfriend.

“A sweater for a tree! What the fuck does a tree need a sweater for?”

And a little bit further on: “A sweater for a pole!”

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I’ve never seen someone who hates yarn bombing with such passion, obviously he had practiced this routine. The focus of his anger was Yarn Corner’s work around Jewell Station.

For the length of the whole block between Barkely and Union streets, every pole, tree and rail was wearing a blue and yellow sweater. There are diamond pattern, bees on hexagonal patterns, spider webs patterns and the faces on poles. It has a complete artistic vision and the knitting is now amazing. The work of 24 women who are part of the enormous Yarn Corner collective.

There is the contrast between the careless fly tipping rubbish at the carpark and the careful knitting that covered the poles. There is so much long neglected space, derelict factory space and crude carpark, around Jewell Station.

Last year I was on a panel discussion about public art when I discover why it was being conducted in a tent outside Jewell Station.  It there was because there are big plans for the area around Jewell Station. The new micro park with the urban bouldering and the two massive murals at the end of Wilson Avenue is part of these plans. Another part is street art projects like Yarn Corner’s project.

So to answer the question posed by angry man in grey: why does a tree need a sweater? It doesn’t and that is, paradoxically, the reason why trees and poles around do need sweaters because art and design are a way of organising some of the excess generated in society.

There is a lot of excess in society, excess time and excess stuff, it can be art or rubbish. Knitting for yarn bombing is excessive, spray painting a wall in the street is excessive, as is the excess of the vinyl couch and other trash that has been dumped around Jewell Station. The disorganised excess, the rubbish is often ignored. The organised excess is intended to attract attention, to enhance a neglected space and create holding power in the place.

For more on Yarn Corner’s project at Jewell Station see Open Journal.


State of the Nation @ Counihan

State of the Nation, curated by Kimberley Moulton, at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick, is a group exhibition of six indigenous artists who live on Kulin and Eora countries. Amongst them the work of Jason Wing, seven years ago I reviewed one of his exhibitions and his work is completely different now,  going from street to contemporary and conceptual.

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Video still from Megan Cope, Blaktism, 2014

Megan Cope is a Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island in S.E. Queensland. Her impressive video, The Blaktism (2014), takes an absurd look at establishing her aboriginal identity at the same time questioning what Australian identity means. It was inspired by her experience in obtaining her ‘Certificate of Aboriginality’.

The video shows a theatrical ceremony where she moves from under the Union Jack to wearing the Australian flag. During the ceremony her pale skin is painted brown and dark contact lens inserted. In the end, after the fluoro dance party celebration, she removes the Australian flag, the contact lens and make-up choosing to return to her original appearance.

Paola Balla’s Unsettling Or The True Story of When Mok Mok Came to the Big Smoke (2016) is a photographic series with text. The title of the work is apt as ‘unsettling’ is disturbing, it is literally the opposite of what the colonial settlers did. To unsettle is to remove that feeling of ownership and familiarity. Balla takes on the spirit of Mok Mok, a female entity from Wemba Wemba Country that steals kids and chops up men. Here she is cooking and washing clothes in an urban domestic setting and composing a massive rant about all the injustices the indigenous women and children suffer.

Paola Balla is a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman of Calabrese and Chinese heritage; with this background it is not surprising that Melbourne’s Il Globo has a biographic article about her that emphasises her Calabrese heritage.

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Paola Balla, Untitled and Uncared For (a)

Balla also had a couple of installations in the exhibition, assemblages of objects are hairy and disturbing. Untitled and Uncared For (a) consisted of three objects. A tin cup with a colourful image of “Outback Australia” printed on it, revealing its tourism origins. A kangaroo skin bag that appeared to contain a head and a vintage hand-coloured photograph defaced with fur. In this work identity is removed, to be replaced with a cheap souvenir that is itself uncared for. I wasn’t so impressed with Balla’s Untitled and Uncared For (b), even though I could see the point of the dead native flowers and introduced weeds and the feral fox fur, as it is just a flower arrangement.


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